Proofs

A Love Like Blood – Marcus Sedgwick

Posted in Historical Fiction, Proofs, Thriller on March 27th, 2014 by admin – 2 Comments

Marcus Sedgwick is already established as a gifted, award-winning author of YA novels but A Love Like Blood marks his first venture into the adult market.  So is it a tentative dipping of toes in the water or all-out submersion?  A bit of both, I would say,  as the narrative displays the same intelligence and curiosity of Sedgwick’s YA work whilst eschewing the typically teen Twilight approach  to vampire stories.

Our narrator Charles Jackson has been haunted by what he witnessed in 1944 shortly after the Liberation of Paris.  In a bunker in Saint-Germain he thinks he saw a man crouched over the body of a young woman, drinking her blood.  He tries to put the horrifying sight out of his mind but seven years later, during a return visit to Paris, he sees the same man and feels compelled to investigate further.  What ensues is a gripping, psychological thriller which spans 24 years as Charles hunts for and is hunted by the mysterious stranger.

Charles specialises in haematology, the study of blood, and this story also focuses on blood, Charles’ and indeed humanity’s obsession with blood.

I learned at medical school how the colour of  blood  changes with its state of oxygenation, from dark, almost purplish, through to the brightest lurid red, but whatever its precise colour, our earliest selves must have formed a deep relationship with it.  Relationship, that’s the only word I can use, and still, after all my time thinking about it, I cannot find an answer to the question of blood.

This is a story of love, of extremes, passion, revenge, obsession, questioning the very primitive essence of man.  It has that gothic vibe which imbues Sedgwick’s earlier books – think more modern Bram Stoker than cute teen vampires and less vampire than Freudian ponderings.  The pace has a steady ebb and flow much like the blood pulsing through our veins and the pressure increases steadily as Charles’ quest takes him across Europe.  At times it is unclear as to who is hunting who – is Charles the prey or the predator?  Some of the chase is reminiscent of The 39 Steps and that classic black and white film starring Robert Donat.  Charles is not your typical hero and his flaws make him all the more realistic.  At times I also felt touches of Carlos Ruiz Zafon in the European Gothic style.  Having said that, I think it’s fair to say that Sedgwick has his own distinctive, elegant style.

A Love Like Blood will introduce Marcus Sedgwick to a much wider readership but I hope he will also continue to feed the curious minds of children and Young Adults with his other material.

A Love Like Blood is published by Mulholland Books – release date – 27th March 2014.

 

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Lovely Additions

Posted in Lovely Additions, Proofs on February 11th, 2014 by admin – 2 Comments

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A few interesting new arrivals on the book front recently – 2 from the library, 1 competition win, 1 purchased, 1 requested review book and 4 unsolicited review books.  Clicking on the covers will take  you to their Amazon Affliate Link.

I don’t like the word diet as it conjures up visions of torture and faddish ways to lose weight.  I’ve never dieted in my life but for the past 6 months or so I have been trying to eat more healthily.  A blood test in June revealed raised cholesterol so I decided to cut down on the cheese (my nemesis!) and be a bit more active.  I’ve lost 10lbs so far and am no longer overweight but I bought The Hairy Dieters book as it came highly recommended by friends especially as it contains meals which all the family, even my fussy bunch, will enjoy.  I’ve reserved their first book How to Love Food and Lose Weight at the library.  There’s a queue of 9 ahead of me but I have plenty of food for thought in the meantime… By the way, the weight loss hasn’t improved the raised cholesterol so a new exercise regime is the next step – wonder if I can run and read simultaneously…

 

Kill or Cure was a win in a competition organised by We Love This Book.  It has proven a big hit with the all the family, particularly the more gruesome parts, of the book, not the family!   Detailing the history of medicine from prehistory to modern times, this is one for dipping into and may well provide useful in the healthy eating regime…as in inducing  loss of appetite.

 

The Cleaner of Chartres will be a re-read this month as it is our library book group’s choice for February.  With less funding for libraries and limited stock, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Liz, our librarian, to source enough copies if we recommend a particular title.  I know we could source them ourselves but that defeats the whole purpose of it being a “library” book group.  Soon there will be no books left!  Seriously…

Lean On Pete is another library loan.  My bookish friend Mandy has been raving evangelically about this writer so I really need to get to it.

North of Nowhere is the latest novel from children’s author Liz Kessler.  My daughter Eva loved this author’s previous books so this is one for both of us to read and enjoy.  Apparently this story was inspired by a South Devon village which fell into the sea during stormy weather – ironic considering the horrendous damage the storms are currently wreaking on the Devon and Cornish coasts.

The last batch of four are unsolicited review copies which dropped through the letterbox.  Sometimes these are so wide off the mark for me, even with my eclectic tastes, but these four do appeal in very different ways.  I’ve enjoyed Valerie Martin’s writing style in the past and Byron Easy looks intriguing with The Winter Folly promising to be an entertaining dual time-frame story.  When I was Young isn’t really singing to me at the moment, I sense saga vibes coming off it!

Wondering now if I should choose my next read according to the weather today but then they’ve forecast amber alerts for gales, rain and possible snow – enough to make an indecisive Libran doolally!

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The Disenchanted Widow – Christina McKenna

Posted in N Ireland, Proofs on August 22nd, 2013 by admin – 2 Comments

The Disenchanted Widow

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Amazon Publishing (27 Aug 2013)
    Source – Amazon Vine
    My Rating – 3.5 stars

Having thoroughly enjoyed Christina McKenna’s previous novel, The Misremembered Man, I was eager to read her latest offering, also set in the fictional rural Northern Ireland village, Tailorstown.

It is 1981, the height of The Troubles and the imminent deaths of the IRA Hunger Strikers are aggravating an already tense political situation.  Recently widowed Bessie Lawless is on the run, pursued by the “Dentist”, an IRA enforcer whose torture methods are renowned.  Bessie’s feckless, abusive husband thought he could swindle the Dentist but now it’s payback time and Bessie is the target.  She ends up in Tailorstown with her unruly 9 year old son, Herkie (Hercules), in  tow.  Is Tailorstown ready for this brash blonde?

As in her previous novel, the author highlights the comic elements of rural life with all its quirks including the local gossips who have a field day when Bessie arrives.  Although there are allusions to the Troubles, the emphasis is on the peculiarities of village life where the local parish priest is revered.  The characters occasionally veer into pantomime territory but this is a light, heartwarming read which will appeal to fans of Alexander McCall Smith – indeed, Bessie could be the Irish version of Precious Ramotswe!

 

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Ghost Moth – Michele Forbes

Posted in Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, N Ireland, Proofs on August 3rd, 2013 by admin – 1 Comment

 

Ghost Moth

Publisher – W&N

 

Ghost Moth

Publisher – Bellevue Literary Press

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source
Amazon Vine

My Rating
4 stars – one to watch

 

Ghost Moth is the debut novel of Michele Forbes, an Irish actress who has already written several critically acclaimed short stories.

Overall, I  found this a very promising debut novel with flashes of brilliance and a poetic heart at its core.  It’s a deeply moving examination of the minutiae of everyday life parts of which echo the author’s own life experiences.  There are two narrative strands,  both set  in Belfast ; the first  in 1949 where a young woman, Katherine Fallon, finds her pleasant relationship with the sure and steady George Bedford is shaken when she meets the charismatic tailor, Thomas McKinley. In the 1969 story we know that she is married to George and has four children but is it a marriage of convenience?

I loved the 1969 story, with the unsettled nature of the Bedfords’ relationship mirroring the uncertainty of a city on the brink of civil war. George, in his role as a part-time fire fighter, sees the burgeoning violence first-hand.  Elsa, Katherine’s youngest daughter, faces increasing hostility from other local children as the Bedfordshire are Catholics in a predominantly Protestant neighbourhood. Forbes excels at portraying the ebb and flow of family life : a day trip to the seaside, a back garden fair to raise funds for the “black babies”, how to find your role within the family.  In the midst of  all this change Katherine seems stuck in the past, unable to move forward.

The 1949 Katherine is a totally different character, embarking on an affair despite being happily settled with George after a two year relationship. You know it will all end badly but it is difficult to feel sympathy for Katherine and nigh impossible to work out what motivates her to make these life choices besides  just drifting into them.

The Bedfords seem like an ordinary family but within their “ordinariness” you will find extraordinary ripples making you think of the nature of love – between mother and child, between husband and wife, between siblings.  Does love have to be showy and passionate to survive the passing years?  Forbes makes you see under the surface, to what really matters.

I really enjoyed this condidently written debut novel and found some sections extremely moving especially towards the end of the story.   Some parts, especially in the early stages,  seemed overwritten and this had a jarring effect on the flow of the novel but fortunately this was the exception rather than the rule.  I am looking forward to reading more from this very talented author.

PS Which cover do you prefer?  Am I alone in having an extreme dislike of the one on the right??

headshot

Michelle Forbes

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Silent Noon – Trilby Kent

Posted in Proofs on July 1st, 2013 by admin – Be the first to comment

Silent Noon

Published
04/07/2013

Publisher
Alma Books Ltd

ISBN
9781846882906

Source
New Books Magazine

My Rating
4 stars

Silent Noon is Trilby Kent’s second novel for adults.  It is set in 1953, in a boarding school on the remote island of Lindsey in the North Sea.  Fourteen year old Londoner  Barney Holland hopes his life will improve when he is offered a place at Carding House School.  Abandoned by his mother and cared for erratically by a mostly absent step-dad, he longs for stability and security.  He and fellow “outsider”, Belinda Flood who has been expelled from another school, find themselves under the spell of Ivor Morrell, a Senior pupil who makes his own rules.

Kent’s characters aren’t particularly likeable but they are certainly memorable.  You feel the anguish of the newcomer, Barney, socially estranged from his classmates and cut adrift from his family.  The island itself seems imbued with sadness and tragedy, making it difficult for this post-war generation to forge their own destinies.  You sense the burden of the sacrifice made by their predecessors weighing heavily on the shoulders of the post-war youth.

This is a very compelling read which will engage those who enjoy literary fiction and I’m sure it will provoke a lot of discussion for reading groups.

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Beneath an Irish Sky – Isabella Connor

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Proofs on June 7th, 2013 by admin – 3 Comments

Beneath an Irish Sky

Publisher: Choc Lit Limited

Publication Date: 07-Aug-2013

Paperback

Source – www.newbooksmag.com

My Rating – 5 stars

 

This is my first taste of Choc Lit and I will certainly be back for more.  Isabella Connor is the pen name for Liv Thomas and Val Oltenau.  I’m not a big fan of collaborations and I don’t usually like contemporary romantic fiction but this novel stood out for me with its intelligence and wit along with a certain Irish sparkle.

Young Irish Traveller, Luke Kiernan is thrust into an unknown world following a tragic accident.  Plucked from the tranquillity of the Irish countryside he has to forge a new life amongst folk who don’t approve of his Traveller background.  With the threat of violence from his Irish uncles, the future doesn’t look bright for Luke.

This is an extremely readable, touching story which will appeal to fans of romantic fiction with a bit of a kick.   The characters are extremely well drawn, from the mysterious and sometimes brutal world of Irish Travellers to the supposedly more sophisticated, urbane setting of Middle England.  An ideal holiday read and also a rewarding book group read as it will encourage discussion about society’s attitudes towards and misunderstandings about minority groups.

You can discover more of Choc Lit’s enticing titles here.

 

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The Shock of the Fall – Nathan Filer

Posted in Proofs on May 23rd, 2013 by admin – Be the first to comment

The Shock of the Fall

Published
23/05/2013

Publisher
HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

ISBN
9780007491438

Source
www.readinggroups.org

My Rating
4.5 stars

Nathan Filer is a registered mental health nurse as well as a performance poet and his real-life experience is evident in this, his debut novel.   The story is narrated by Matthew, a nineteen year old schizophrenic who recalls the sudden, tragic death of his older brother, Simon – a death which he believes he caused.

The use of mixed formats, different fonts interspersed with occasional line drawings cleverly mirrors the ebb and flow of Matthew’s mental illness.  Likewise, the narrative flits between different stages in his life, before Simon’s death, after Simon’s death, during hospital stays, independent living.  This is an extremely honest account of one man’s journey through mental illness but there is also humour and great insight from Matthew as he sees how his brother’s death tore his family apart and left them adrift.

The characters are living, breathing creations, with their own foibles and imperfections.  You see the heartache of Matthew’s parents who, having lost one son, feel they are losing their only remaining child.  His Mum, is at her wits end, making lots of noise whilst Dad retreats into silence.  His grandmother, the wonderful Nanny Noo, accepts Matthew as he is, visiting him at his flat every other Thursday, never passing judgement.

If it wasn’t for Nanny Noo I wouldn’t give a shit, but when somebody cares for you as much as she does, I know it’s not nice to make them worry.

This is a beautifully written, moving story – the beauty is in the everyday detail of Matthew’s life – from the fleeting memories of a holiday in France to the stultifying routine of an acute psychiatric ward – eat, sleep, smoke…  It’s a novel which will stay with me when others have disappeared into the ether – you won’t forget Matthew in a hurry and you cannot fail to wish him well….or just to keep his head above water…

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Choose Me – Kay Langdale

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Proofs on May 8th, 2013 by admin – 2 Comments

Choose Me

Published
09/05/2013

Publisher
Hodder & Stoughton Ltd

ISBN
9781444766820

Source - New Books Magazine

My Rating – 4.5 stars

Kay Langdale’s latest novel tackles the issue of adoption and, in particular, what the adoption process really means for the potential adoptee.  Nine year old Billy is wise beyond his years and he knows time is running out for him as far as getting the perfect adoptive parents is concerned.  His social worker, Miriam, decides to bend the rules a little and attempts the adoption equivalent of speed-dating, quickly selecting three possible families for Billy but in the rush Billy’s viewpoint seems to be overlooked.

Billy’s  matter-of-fact attitude is mirrored by the author’s sparse, objective prose which is free from embellishment and flowery descriptions and his tale is all the more poignant as a result.  Through Billy’s eyes we see that children can be extremely insightful and able to see past all the facades we adults create to hide the cracks.  Kay Langdale is equally insightful in her ability to capture the moods and motivations of the various characters involved from the overworked social worker to the enthusiastic would-be adoptive parents, digging that bit deeper to see beneath the facade.  A touching read which is sure to provoke lots of discussion at book group.

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The Watcher in the Shadows – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Posted in Children's Books, Historical Fiction, Proofs, YA Fiction on May 7th, 2013 by admin – 2 Comments

The Watcher in the Shadows

Published
09/05/2013

Publisher
Orion Children’s Books (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd )

ISBN
9781444001655

Source
Publisher

My Rating
5 stars

I am a big fan of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s writing, both his adult and children’s novels, since I first read The Shadow of the Wind when it was published in 2004.    Since then I have enjoyed his two other books in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books cycle,  The Angel’s Game and The Prisoner of Heaven.  There has been quite a gap between each adult novel being published but Zafon aficianados have been sustained in the interim by his Niebla (Mist) series for Young Adults which were originally written in the 90s but have recently been translated by Lucia Graves who did such a splendid job of translating Zafon’s adult novels.

Like Zafon, I fervently believe that storytelling transcends age and that his YA novels appeal to any reader who  loves magic and mystery so I was delighted to dive into The Watcher in the Shadows, the third of the Niebla series, a cycle of books which can be read as stand-alone novels as their linking theme is mystery and adventure rather than a series of characters.

In The Watcher in the Shadows you can see the first germinating seeds of Zafon’s masterful storytelling skills, that elegant Gothic style steeped in mystery and magic with an aura of malevolence haunting the narrative.  Our setting is Normandy, France in the summer of 1937.  Recently widowed Simone Sauvelle and her young children Irene and Dorian hope to make a fresh start in the small coastal village of Blue Bay where Simone has secured a post as housekeeper to Lazarus Jann, an inventor and toy manufacturer, who resides in a secluded mansion with his invalid wife.  Lazarus is the only person allowed to attend to his wife and they lead a rather unconventional life surrounded by the automatons and other fantastic pieces created by the toymaker.

At first, the omens look favourable for the Sauvelles.   Young teen, Irene, falls in love with a local boy.  Dorian is taken under Lazarus’ wing.  Simone feels settled and happy in her work.  Perhaps it is all a bit too perfect?  Indeed, fortunes change when a dark, malevolent force is unleashed and the reader is led on a breathtaking adventure with plenty of scary moments en route!   Its a fabulous, rollicking tale filled with suspense and mystery – a story which harks back to ripping yarns of years gone by but don’t expect a fairytale ending…  Highly recommended for both young  and old(er) adventurers.

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The Drowning of Arthur Braxton – Caroline Smailes

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Literary Fiction, Proofs on April 19th, 2013 by admin – 2 Comments

Cover Matt-quote

Published
11/04/2013

Publisher
The Friday Project Limited

ISBN
9780007479092

Source
Publisher

My Rating
5 stars

The only predictable thing about Caroline Smailes’ writing is that it’s unpredictable.  She has such a wonderful wealth of imagination and this is evidenced by the diversity of her novels.  I have already read and enjoyed Black Boxes and Like Bees to Honey (reviewed here ) but I think Arthur Braxton might be the one which brings her to a much wider audience.

Why?  Well, the story of Arthur B can be read on so many different levels.  On the surface it’s an urban fairytale – young teenager, alienated by his peers, falls for a mythical creature only he doesn’t see any problem in their living happily after after.  Dive a little deeper…and you’ll see all the complexities of human relationships, the tragedy of everyday life alongside the joy of feeling loved and wanted.  A little deeper and you appreciate the splashes of Greek mythology which infuse this boy meets girl story – the stories of Daphne, Medea, Castor and Pollux amongst others.

Even though the characters seem very out of the ordinary and not of this world, they come across as real-life, flesh and blood people and the reader is invested in their fate.  Young Laurel was the character who captivated me the most – forever child-like, spelling out words with her Smartie lids, deserving of a much brighter future.  Then there are the ageless twins, Kester and Pollock, heckling from the viewing gallery of the pool, reminding me a lot of those curmudgeonly old hecklers from the Muppet Show, Statler and Waldorf….I told you it was different from your usual comfort read!

Whereas some of Caroline Smailes’ other novels have “challenged” readers with their unconventional formats, here she retains the variety of text without overwhelming the reader and it all seems more controlled and lets you settle into the novel with less distractions.  It’s one of  those books you will want to stay up into the wee small hours reading and yet it will seem time as passed as quickly as an episode of Waterloo Road….read the book and you’ll understand.

I have a strong feeling this novel will bring Caroline Smailes much success and mark her out as one of our most promising writers…ahem, Granta…

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